Monthly Archives: September 2012

URA following rules only, but being very stupid (in my opinion)

Have you heard the news? Check it out here: URA sees red over graffiti art on shophouse.

What is the purpose of conservation? In Mass Effect 3, the Reapers (alien robot monsters) claim that they’re protecting us from ourselves when they “preserve” us in grotesque robotic shells. Something feels incredibly wrong- the Reapers aren’t saving us, they’re destroying us! We are more than our organic matter, aren’t we?


(This is what the URA proposes doing to shophouses, and Singaporean culture, and probably Singaporeans too, really. Jeng jeng jenggg.)

In trying to “preserve” or “conserve” the shophouses, the URA would inadvertently destroy the organic life and culture that has developed wonderfully on Haji Lane. Okay, I’d like to give Haji more credit than that- I bet that they’d adapt to it and survive anyway, but why are we discouraging the very sort of culture and vibe that our Government keeps telling us we need? This is the exact sort of hypocrisy that drives people to apathy or migration.

Now here’s the deal- no matter what our Government or the URA or any other top-down specialist says, the truth is that we know incredibly little about how life and culture emerges. We don’t have it on tap. That’s why it’s such a big deal when it happens, and that’s why I personally feel that we have no right to interfere in these matters if there isn’t any danger or threat. (Safety regulations, etc.)

The air has to be just right, all the ingredients have to be there in the right place, at the right time, put together the right way- and nobody really knows how to do this. It’s different every single time. This is why it’s so important that we protect and nurture it when it happens. That’s why it’s a newsworthy event: See NYTimes- Singapore Lane Springs To Life.

Graffiti is just paint, what! We can always repaint the shophouses if we see fit, at any time. Why fix what isn’t broken? Why now, when everything is going great? Must we really tamper and interfere with every last thing that’s going on?

Most of what I want to say has been said by everythingalsocomplain.com. Here are the points that they made, in summary:

  • The URA guide is loaded with fuzzy terms like ‘unique features’, or how a ‘traditional’ design ‘lends character’ to the neighbourhood.
  • Even their spokespeople say they would clamp down on designs that rouse ‘great concerns’. (What is a “great concern”?)
  • If giving these old fogie shophouses a snappy ‘tattoo’ is what it takes to keep the little curiosity that is Haji Lane abuzz and ALIVE in all its quirky, laid-back hipness without losing too much of its ‘old world charm’, then the URA should afford to ‘close one eye’ to architectural anomalies like the bizarre blue house at the end of the street.

Architectural anomalies are part of what make urban life interesting. Come on lah, you’re the bloody URA- don’t you have people who’ve studied architecture and urban planning and all of those things, on scholarships and whatnot? Don’t you have people who are passionate about urban spaces? Can’t you recognize a good thing when you see it?

Conservation shouldn’t mean keeping things in an ancient bubble, artificially frozen in time. Sure, there should always be some examples of what the shophouses used to look like a hundred years ago. But above all else, there should be life, and there should be soul. Urban spaces, like language, evolve over time- and that doesn’t mean destroying the old in favour of the new. Only “urban planners” and “central authorities” do that. Communities rarely destroy their own culture, history and heritage- rather, they do something amazing- they repurpose the old and make it relevant to the new. Think about what we do with words- how languages adapt, grow, mature.

We’ll always have Shakespeare, and we always should. History is important. There will always be  people who want to watch Shakespearean plays in the old language, in the old setting, to get a sense of what it used to be like. That’s great. But that doesn’t mean we should discourage theater from adapting and evolving.

I’m pretty damn sure that the folk at Haji Lane treasure their shophouses. These people care about the soul of the place. I bet you that every single patron and vendor at Haji would be mortified if the shophouses were replaced with “modern” buildings. These are the people who are sick of all the urbanization and all the homogenous malls everywhere. You can trust them to do the right thing.

Growth and development is fundamentally organic. You have to have a little faith and allow people to put their own spin on things.

To me, this is just another manifestation of one of the things that I think fundamentally needs to change in Singapore. There is a bias in favour of rules and regulations over common sense. Sim Wong Hoo’s No U-Turn Syndrome has never left us- and it continues to rear its ugly head again and again.

Let people be people lah. There’s no “great concern” that a shophouse on Haji Lane has a little unique paint on it. Things grow and evolve over time naturally, organically.

Please, URA- don’t do anything stupid. Let Haji Lane be Haji Lane.